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An encounter at the Irish bar
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Larkin waited a bit until his eyes adjusted. There were old men at the bar, and most had a face that would resemble Patty's pig.

He felt good. A return to the roots. This part of New York was known for its Irish bars and Irish-American people. He found the bar through an ad in the Irish Echo.

All he wanted was to relax, have a black beer and pass the two week he had visiting the Big Apple. Then he saw her dancing. She did not have the figure of a dancer. She was much to heavy on top. But she had legs that looked like they ran to the armpits.

And that Irish music filled the soul.

Then a portly middle-aged man grabbed and hugged her. "It is so nice to see you at home," the man said. She walked with him to the bar, and there was a woman, clearly a mother, who hugged her, too,

She was a beauty. Red hair cropped as if she had been in prison. Clearly athletic with her participation in the step dancing. He thought for a moment she might have smiled in his direction. That gave him a bit of courage to move to the bar where she was downing a black beer.

"How are you'," he said.

She turned abruptly and answered quickly. "Just fine."

"Who the hell are you," the mother said.

"I'm just a guy who like step dancing. But I have not done it for some time. Perhaps someone here could help me."

A mischievous glint lighted the girl's eye. "Well. Some. Let me show you," she said. She wanted to dance him into the ground.

A half hour later she still was smiling, but it was clear that both were in shape.

"I was gong to embarrass you, but it appears that you have been going to the gym. Have you ever danced Irish before?

"When I was a kid in Boston," he said 

"How about a beer," she responded.

I just got done with a little bit of military training, which is why my folks are happy to see me. I was away for 10 weeks after graduated from college."

"Good grief, you must be an officer or something," Larkin said.

"Yes, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines,." she replied. "So think twice before messing with me!"

So are you like have killer hands" Larkin asked.

"Probably," she replied.

"Well, let's dance normal style and promise not to kill me." Larkin responded.

The rest of the night was discussion in their Irish heritage. Weak Catholicism, love of country. The whole nine yards.

"I have two weeks here. Can I see you again," Larkin asked. A sly smile told him that she liked him.

He wondered how he could keep the truth from the woman. He was beginning to have feelings. But he better not. This was an important trip.

"Boy, there are a lot of fine women there," said Sgt. McAvoy on the way back to the Waldorf downtown.

"Any that you would trust your back to?" asked Larkin. The sergeant suggested one young lady, one of the stepdancers.

The two weeks were being spent with planners at the New York Police Department.

Larkin got the nod because he earned a break from combat, and his experience gave him a lot of knowledge about terrorism. The police contacts had lined up a daunting schedule of talks and encounters.

Larkin was building a reputation in the corps, and when he spoke listeners knew he had been there and done that.

He felt a certain affinity with the red-haired stepdancer. He, too, had completed a post-college program to become a Marine officer. But he served three years in the ranks before going to college, so he had a good understanding from both the bottom up and top down. That knowledge demonstrated itself in how he handled and protected his troops and maybe why he made a quick jump to captain.

"I'm glad you came," said the red-haired Diedra when he returned to the Irish bar a week later. Her green eyes flashed. He allowed that he was happy, too, and he spent much of the evening chatting, doing a little dancing and flattering the mother a bit.

"Want to get out of here," he asked, and seconds later they were on the street in search of a late-night restaurant.

"There' s one over on the other side of the park," Diedra said.

Three young men interrupted the stroll, and one had a knife.

In a second, Dierda planted stiff fingers into the man's throat, and his companions froze in amazement as both the knife and the assailant fell to the floor. The companions split, and Larkin and Diedra quickly walked away from the gagging young man on the sidewalk.

"That was pretty impressive," Larkin said. "I am glad I have someone to protect me. You know the man who was with me last week said that you were the kind of woman who could watch a man's back."

"Does your back need watching," she laughed.

Over a late-night pizza Larkin broke the news that he was leaving the East Coast in two days.

"I knew our time together was perishable," said Diedra. "Where will you go and what will you do?"

"It's just another job," Larkin said. "But your status is a bit uncertain. Aren't you waiting for the Marine Corps to tell you where to go and what to do."

"I probably have two more weeks at home myself, and then I am expecting to get an interim assignment, maybe teaching hand-to-hand combat at the U.S. Naval Academy. Then I have a bit more than six months in my basic combat class where new officers are trained to lead others. So I am going to be bouncing around for perhaps as much as a year. Annapolis and then back to Quantico for the real deal.

"Did I mention that I have been involved in personal defense and martial arts since I was a kid?"

"You did not mention it, but I think you made it clear to the guy with the knife in the park."

The evening ended with an exchange of mail addresses and a promise to have another pizza later in the year.

Larkin told himself that he was in no position to have a girl friends, and Diedra certainly was going to have her hands full. Maybe next year if he lived that long.

Larkin lived, but just barely. Six months later he was in Syria heading up a snatch unit in an effort to save a kidnapped U.S. Red Cross worker. He got the job done, but a bullet broke the bone in his right upper arm. That meant medical leave until it healed and an impressive black sling.

He moved in with a friend in Washington and spent a couple of months writing reports, correcting reports, evaluating new technology and helping colleagues create a training module on extraction of kidnapped prisoners. So it did not take long until he got a call to present the module to officers about to graduate their training course in Quantico.

He was hoping that his green-eyed stepdancer would be there. He spotted her outside the MCX, the Marine Corps Exchange, the same day he moved into the bachelor officer quarters for the weekend. Where else can you get a $26 room? Larkin was just out for a run with his arm strapped to his side when he saw her. He did not approach her and just continued running. He kicked himself for the rest of the night, but it would have been awkward to explain exactly what he was doing there.

So she was here, he through, and guessed that she would be among the young officers he was to instruct Monday morning. That, too, would be awkward. Showing up in full combat gear and a ghost mask would be overkill, he reasoned, but perhaps he can just show up in civilian clothes.

And that is what he did. He gave his talk and answered questions. She was in the front row, slightly thinner than before and a bit more muscular. The red hair was pulled back but appeared to be a little longer.

His friend, the chief instructor, introduced him as a special operations expert who had more than his share of experiences. No name was given. The explanation was that he need to maintain his anonymity.

His presentation included slides of various ways to reaching a target. There was little that had not been featured on the television: Bailing out of a C-17 with an inflatable boat, slogging toward the target on small vehicles, dispatching eyes in the sky to find the enemy. But he seemed to generate the most interest when he spoke of killing.

“We are not in the business of taking prisoners. Enemy commander or enemy shoemaker. We do not have the luxury to decide,” he cautioned.

He knew that most, if not all, of the students were not headed to combat post or special operations training. He, himself, had not been trained that way. He wondered sometimes if he had been in the Navy if he could have completed the rigorous SEAL training, although he had a lot of respect for those who did. He just stumbled into the role of leading difficult missions. Still, most of the questions were not about operations but about maintaining fitness. All present had been brought to the level of international athletes, but some worried that after getting assignments, they would slack off.

“You either run or don’t run,” he said. “And you either do your 200 sit ups or you don’t. It is up to you. But your physical condition is a big part of your evaluations.,” he told them.

“What do you do personally? How about stepdancing?” said a female voice. He stifled a laugh. “That requires a lot of alcoholic intake, but there is some guy buying over at the officers club tonight if you will give the lessons. I mean your instructor here.”

“I didn’t think she was that sharp,” he said to himself as he ducked out the door.

“Thanks for nothing, buddy. You got me standing rounds for 35 thirsty lieutenants tonight.,” groaned his buddy, the instructor.

“Don’t worry. I’ll kick in, and I even will come a little later and have a few brews myself.

“So you remembered,” he said to Diedra when she finally spotted him and sat down at the officer’s club.

“I have a lot of motivation to remember my favorite dance partner,” she said. “I was not surprised that you are Marine officer. There is just something in the way we carry ourselves. Anyway, your sergeant spilled the beans in New York to the woman behind the bar.  Nothing serious. Just that you both were servicemen. You don’t get that endurance by going to the gym. I was expecting and even hoping that you would turn up sometime this year.”

“What now,” he asked. She replied quickly:

“We court. Short distance. Long distance. Depending on what they throw at us. And if our feelings continue to develop, as I am sure they will, and we survive, we figure out away to come together.”

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If you like what you read, short stories on this site and others may also be found in digital books listed HERE!

All short stories and this website copyright 2018 and 2019 by James J. Brodell.